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"That there is a close connexion between a state of consciousness and the brain we do not dispute. But there is also a close connexion between a coat and the nail on which it hangs, for, if the nail is pulled out, the coat falls to the ground. Shall we say, then, that the shape of the nail gives us the shape of the coat, or in any way corresponds to it ?"--Matter and Memory (1896) by Henri Bergson

"Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophysical identification, or reduction. But the problems dealt with are those common to this type of reduction and other types, and what makes the mind-body problem unique, and unlike the water-H2O problem or the Turing machine-IBM machine problem or the lightning-electrical discharge problem or the gene-DNA problem or the oak tree-hydrocarbon problem, is ignored." --"What Is it Like to Be a Bat?"

The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739.
The Canard Digérateur, or Digesting Duck, was an automaton in the form of duck, created by Jacques de Vaucanson in 1739.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena, which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical position that interprets a complex system as the sum of its parts.


In philosophy

The concept of downward causation poses an alternative to reductionism within philosophy. This opinion is developed by Peter Bøgh Andersen, Claus Emmeche, Niels Ole Finnemann, and Peder Voetmann Christiansen, among others. These philosophers explore ways in which one can talk about phenomena at a larger-scale level of organization exerting causal influence on a smaller-scale level, and find that some, but not all proposed types of downward causation are compatible with science. In particular, they find that constraint is one way in which downward causation can operate. The notion of causality as constraint has also been explored as a way to shed light on scientific concepts such as self-organization, natural selection, adaptation, and control.

Free will

Philosophers of the Enlightenment worked to insulate human free will from reductionism. Descartes separated the material world of mechanical necessity from the world of mental free will. German philosophers introduced the concept of the "noumenal" realm that is not governed by the deterministic laws of "phenomenal" nature, where every event is completely determined by chains of causality. The most influential formulation was by Immanuel Kant, who distinguished between the causal deterministic framework the mind imposes on the world—the phenomenal realm—and the world as it exists for itself, the noumenal realm, which, as he believed, included free will. To insulate theology from reductionism, 19th century post-Enlightenment German theologians, especially Friedrich Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl, used the Romantic method of basing religion on the human spirit, so that it is a person's feeling or sensibility about spiritual matters that comprises religion.


Most common philosophical understandings of causation involve reducing it to some collection of non-causal facts. Opponents of these reductionist views have given arguments that the non-causal facts in question are insufficient to determine the causal facts.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Reductionism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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